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Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

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and I did it with a horrible hatred. The misfortune of
revolutions is, that we must act too hastily ; we have no tinie
to examine. We seem to be in a violent fever, antl are in a

* A. V. Arnault: Souvenirs oj a SLity-Ycar-Olcl Man.

196 TERROR. [April

mortal dread that our ideas will miscarry, for lack of energy.
Danton and his triends were able men, true patriots, and we
massacred them ! They had not, like us, clean hands
(j/V/) ; they loved luxury too much : but they had noble ( ! )
and revolutionary hearts. You will some day learn to know
tlieir services ; then the true history of these times will be
written. Danton showed admirable courage in '92 and '93 :
he made Aug. 10. He did not care for the show of power ;
but what immense calmness and activity under the most diffi-
cult circumstances ! what breadth of mind ! what ability !

" I am now sincerely convinced that there would have
been no i8th Bnimaire, no Bonaparte, if Danton and
Robespierre had lived and remained united."

Dr. Robinet asks pertinently, apropos of the above, " How
do 'noble hearts' and 'unclean hands' rhyme together?"
But the confession of the crime is worth having.
* * *

I called Danton disinterested — yes, pure, unselfish, as
much so as Sir Harry Vane, he was, in spite of the loads of
calumny that have been heaped on him.

Oh, it is a burning shame to France that her deliverer
should have lain for seventy years under this heap of oblo-
quy before any one tried to do him justice ! that all the
historians of the Revolution should have contributed to
blacken his memory by retailing the same charges ! And
what shall I say of Victor Hugo, who in his novel Ninety-
Three, in an imagined dialogue between Danton and Marat,
puts him in the pillory as a venal demagogue, for his coun-
trymen to gaze on and loathe ? With the fullest conviction
of the injustice done to Danton, I say that this dialogue
deserves to be branded as Voltaire's La Pueelle has been.
For now we know from Dr. Robinet's books, TJie Private
Life of Danton and The Trial of the Dantonists, and
from the official documents therein at length set forth, that

1794-1 DANTOx disixtI':ri-:sti-:i). 197

every one of the charges against his honesty and purity of
hfe is absolutely false, every one !

I said all historians have retailed the same charges ; that is
to say, each of them, one after the other, has repeated tlic
same charges, without trying to verify them at all, so that we
find, by going far enough back, that they all proceed from
Mirabeau and three personal enemies, — Lafayette, Madame
Roland, and Robespierre,

We have already had one specimen of Madame Roland's
reliability. Now we shall see one of her proofs. Shortly
after the loth of August a robbery of a considerable portion
of the royal treasures was committed. Concerning that,
she writes : " I have had this morning a visit from one of
the robbers of the gardc-meiiblcs ; he came to see if he was
suspected, — Who, then? — Fabre d'Eglantine [who at that
time was Danton's private secretary], — How do you know?
— How? Can such an outrage be the work of any one
but the audacious Danton? I do not know if this truth
will ever be mathematically proven, but I feci it acutely'' ( !)

And such an accusation, though the robbers were shortly
after caught and executed, it is that Victor Hugo gives
currency to !

But the first regular charge made, among others, by
Lafayette, is, that the King paid Danton an enormous sum,
really as a bribe, but under the pretence of being a compen-
sation for the abolition of his office as King's counsellor.
But we know, from official documents published in The
Private Life of Danton, exactly what he paid for his office,
and also what he received as compensation, and we dis-
cover that he received exactly what he was entitled to.
With that amount he bought land in his native town, and on
his death we find him possessed of precisely that laud and
nothing else.

Then, they charge him with misappropriating the large

198 TERROR. [April,

sums of money tliat had been intrusted to him when he was
virtual dictator, in '92, The answer is categoric, that he
did account for every soi/, hni that, as to the secret expencU-
tures, he refused to Q.ZQ.o\\n\. publicly — what no law i-cquiicit
0/ hi/n. He did, however, render an account of the same to
the council of ministers. (See The Private Life of Da u ton.)
In a previous chapter I have suggested a probable reason for
this refusal.

Again : they charge him with misappropriating, while in
Belgium, large sums of money intrusted to him as a Repre-
sentative on Mission, and with carrying away with him large
loads of plunder, on leaving the country. It is proven

by Cambon, finance minister of the republic, that he ac-
counted for the money, and proven in other ways that he
carried absolutely nothing away with him /'/// Ids own clothes.
(See The Private Life of Dan ton.)

There remains, then, but one charge, which is worthy of
notice only because Mirabeau makes it. He states in a
letter to a friend at court. Count Lamarck, as a matter of
gossip, but also as a matter of course, that Danton " yester-
day received thirty thousand livres " from the royal treasury.

Now, much has been made of the circumstance, espe-
cially by Louis Blanc, that this was a private letter which
the writer not for a moment thought would ever be pub-
lished; but afterwards it came out that Mirabeau particu-
larly charged his friend to publish this very correspondence
after his death.

On its face, all must admit it looks ludicrous tliat Danton,
the destroyer of royalty, the man who from the very start of
the Revolution fought the court step by step, and was its
most persistent opponent, should have been in its pay.

Ijut Mirabeau says so, says so positively, and is in a
l)Osition to know.

Yes, but remember tliat Mirabeau, also, himself was in


the habit of receiving bribes : this is notorious. He did not
see any thing wrong in it at all ; he does not mean to blame
Danton at all for it. He simply states the " fact," I say, as
a matter of gossip.

Now suppose a parallel case. Suppose a woman of noto-
riously easy virtue write to a friend of equally easy virtue,
that " Miss so and so has relations with Mr. so and so."
Ought this to convict this young lady, 7vit]iout a particle of
corroborative cviilence? Well, the case against Danton is not
a particle stronger than the one I have supposed. There is
not a rag of testimony co7-roborating this cliarge. All the
papers of the King and court were ransacked after his de-
posal ; and, while they furnished damning testimony against
Mirabeau, there was 7iot an iota implicating Danton. Louis
Blanc, also, is compelled to admit, " If Danton received this
corrupting gold, he by no means earned it, and served the
Revolution none the less vehemently."

I close this portion by quoting this explicit denial of
Danton at a meeting of the Jacobins, Dec. 3, 1 793, when
attacked by the Ht§bertists.

" You will be astonished, when I lay bare to you my pri-
vate affairs, to see the colossal fortune which my enemies
and yours have charged me with, reduced to the little
amount of property which I have always hatl. I defy my
opponents to furnish the proof of any crime whatever by
me." And he demanded that the society appoint a com-
mittee of twelve to examine the charges, which, however,
after a defence by Robespierre, was thought needless.

And then, the still more untenable charge, by Lafayette
and others, that he was a dcbaiiclie, and " m(;nstrously
immoral." Is it to be a di'baiichc to have been married
twice, and to have loved both wives i)assionately? For, as
far as it is possible to have certainty in such matters, these
are the only women with wliom Danton ever had any carnal

20O TERROR. [April,

relation. He was, as already said, an excellent fomil}- man,
delighting to pass all his leisure in the cora])any of his
mother, his stepfather, his wife, and children, as testiiied to
by all, especially by his young faithful disciple, Rousselin dc?
Saint-Albin, a well-known character under Louis Philippe,
He was no gambler. What, then, are his " great vices " ?
He lived economically but decently, delighting in company
and the healthy enjoyments of life — that is all.

I have often thouglit of how differently things might have
turned out for all parties and for France, if, instead of Danton
marrying Mademoiselle Charpentier, and Mademoiselle Phli-
pon becoming Madame Roland, these two persons had met
and mated. True, Danton's first wife was a most noble woman ;
but unfortunately she died too early, and Danton precisely
needed the ambitious helpmate which Mademoiselle Phlipon
would have been. True, also, that Madame Roland found
Danton unbearably ugly, but Madame Danton did not think
him so at all ; and the same ambition that made the old man
Roland a desirable mate to her, might have rendered Danton
handsome in her eyes, especially since her ambition would
have been really gratified.

A few words as to Danton's rhetorical resources. Tliat,
he was eloquent, all, of course, admit ; that is evident from
the fact that he more than once was able, by simply deliver-
ing a speech, to bring about most stupendous results, and
that not with the masses, but in the Convention, of which so
many learned and distinguished men were members. His
gestures and his delivery must, from indication furnished by
the reports, have played a great role on such occasions ; but
it is impossible to get a true idea of them now, since tradi-
tion is very contradictory on tiiese points. 'J'he notion
that he ever used coarse language is false. All his speeches
have been collected, and they are absolutely classical, and
will come to be so considered more and more in the future.



He was always most solicitous for the dignity of the Conven-
tion ; for instance, on occasion of Hebert's atheistical mas-
querades, which he put an end to by thundering out, "This
must be put a stop to ! " He possessed the precious quality,
almost alone among his contemporaries, of speaking to the

It has been made a reproach to him, that, when he had the
multitude on his side, he generally flattered its passions, and
frequently inflamed his audience still more by violent, ex-
travagant language ; while when, on the other hand, the
masses were against him, he seemed afraid to oppose them.
This is a very serious reproach, and, if true, would stamp him
as a moral coward. I admit, that, on superficial view, the
charge seems well founded. There is no doubt that he
frequently accentuated the fury of his audience. But on a
closer study we discover, I think, a complete justification,
from an oratorical point of view. First let me pre-

mise, that whenever he flings forth savage, ferocious words,
as he now and then does, they are always aimed at general-
ities. " He appeared," as Mignet observes, " inexorable in
regard to classes, humane and generous towards individuals."
Therefore whenever he uses such phrases — and they are
very rare — as "Let us drink the blood of aristocrats!"
" Let an aristocratic head fall every day ! " (the very worst
that can be picked out), they never cause any harm. He
never excited the people's passions against individuals. But
this is the point : his use of such phrases was an adroit
rhetorical manoeuvre ; he wanted to seem to be in accord
with his audience, even to go beyond them, in order to insin-
uate moderate measures, to bring them to adopt some sensible
measure. This is visible in very many of his discourses ; for
instance (p. 164), where he moves to amend the impracti-
cable plan of Lepelletier. This was always the case, but
particularly on the occasion when he uttered the above

202 TERROR. [April,

murderous words. It was the stormy session of Sept. 15,
1793, alluded to in the previous chapter. Billaud had
moved that the Revolutionary Tribunal be divided into four
sections, aiid that a "guillotine folloio each sectioti." By
the words, " Let us drink the blood of aristocrats," he abso-
lutely made his audience forget the latter part of Billaud's
proposal, and thus took the savage sting from it. This should
be insisted on, to Danton's eternal honor, that his uiterior
aim was always good ; that he never, ncvei', even in his most
savage mood, intended to lead his hearers to do a wicked
thing. And what seems moral cowardice in the face of a
hostile multitude was, as we have already seen in the case
of the war for propaganda and the Law of the Suspects, a
deep-settled conviction in his mind that it is good states-
manship to bend the head to storms of passionate excite-
ment, in order to act with courageous decision when the
storm is over. All that can be contended is, that he went too
far in this policy, stooped too low ; for instance once, wlien
he invoked protection from " the shadow of Marat," — from
the " individual " whom, living, he had heartily despised.

It was in this same session of Sept. 15 that he caused
to be passed the well-known law of the forty sous, wliich
has generally been considered a demagogic measure. I
think Danton has here been completely misunderstood ; that
he did not i)ropose this law as an economic measure at all.
It was in this session that Hubert's and Billaud's influence
commenced to be paramount. Their followers consisted of
that part of the Parisian population that devoted all their
days and time to politics, — the kind of persons we know
too well here in New York City. To offset their influence,
and checkmate it as mucli as possible, by bringing the hard-
working, patriotic majority, that could not aford to leave
their work ivithout compensation, to the sections, it was, that
he projiosed that the sections should be legally assembled

iro^i /).L\rox ])js[XTi:Ri:sTEn. 203

but twice a week, and should have ih^ir loss of time reim-
bursed on demand. That puts the measure in a very dif-
ferent light.

But do not believe that I want to make Danton into a
saint. While I firmly believe him an uncorrupted and in-
corruptible man, I must say that he sometimes was not above
corrupting others, and was even cynical about it. I do not
now speak of the possible bribe to the mistress of the King
of Prussia, which many honest souls would excuse, consider-
ing a bribe that saves one's country from ruin in war, merely
a ruse of war.

No, I refer to something else. In a speech delivered in
September, 1 793, he declares that with gold they ought to
conquer the Lyonnaise insurrection. These are his words : —

" I say that with three or four millions we might have
reconquered Toulon for France, and hung the traitors who
delivered that city to the English. You will say, your decrees
have no entrance there. Well, has the corrupting gold of
your enemies not had entrance? You have put fifty millions
at the disposition of the Committee of Public Welfare. That
is not enough. Undoubtedly a hundred millions would be
well spent, if they served to conquer liberty. If we had
rewarded the patriotism of the popular societies at Lyons,
that city would not be in the state in which it is. I suppose
no one does not know that we need secret expenses in order
to save the country."

Indeed, everybody knew that. But Danton was entirely
too frank, and this they called cynical. In those days they
would blush to talk loudly about money. To corrupt the
enemy might be a sad necessity, but to talk of " rewarding
the zeal of republicans " ( ! ) that was too much for tlie man-
ners of the time. This, no doubt, did much to lessen his
influence in these fatal autumn months of '93, when it was
so much needed. * * *

204 TERROR. [April,

Especially when judged by the fashion of the times or by
the habits of his contemporaries, Danton indulged but rarely
in hyperbolic language, and still more seldom was he flip-
pant ; but he did so indulge, and flippantly, in one instance,
before the Revolutionary Tribunal, of which his serious
Positivist admirers, I am sorry to say, seem to feel proud.
Asked for his name and residence, as a matter of form, he
gave for answer, "Ma demeure sera bientot dans Ic neaiit''''
(" My home wiU soon be nothingness"). This, on

first view, will prejudice refined and cultured Anglo-Saxons
against him, since with themselves doubts about God and im-
mortality cause pain, at all events. Yet something can be said
for his beliefs, as far as we know them, the flippp,ncy aside.
This may be found in the fact that the French Revolution,
as it denoted a transition in economic, political, and social
relations, it likewise was a transition phase from the religion
of the Middle Ages to the religion of the future.

Danton repudiated atheism. On one occasion he pro-
posed festivals where the people could worship the Supreme
Being, the Lord of nature, " for we have not destroyed super-
stition to establish the reign of atheism.'^ Danton, as well
as Diderot, denounced " the great superstition ; " that is to
say, the popuhir, the dogmatic conception, in tlie first place,
of God. They repudiated the idea of a lawless despot,
omnipotent, and consequently siding with the rich and
powerful of this world. And when we read in a late work.
Groundwork of Economies, by an orthodox believer, that
the only valid reason why the many shall toil for the few is
the evident will of God, then even to atheism, as a protest
against such a God, against false gods, one may become
reconciled. But Danton could not possibly be wanting in
faith in the Ideal, he who moved thousands to sacrifice their
lives for liberty and fiitherland.

And in like manner the revolutionists repudiated tlie

I794-] DANS LE NEANT. 2^.5

popular ideas of immortality. Cultured people of the future
will hardly be able to do without the hope of immortality.
William Morris's idea, that people will by and by be so happy
on earth that they will be dreadfully afraid of death, seems
to me preposterous ; and George EHot's conception, of living
in the thoughts of posterity, will hardly sufifice. But if the
idea of immortality shall commend itself to the instructed
minds of the future, it evidently must be cleared of its earth-
ly dross, — precisely that against which the Encycfopaedists
protested. The desire to remember our earthly experiences,
to remember whether we have been kings or beggars here,
will be accounted by our posterity simply a passing weakness
of the flesh, I am sure, and death be looked upon as a
sponge that wipes out our memory (as diseases, in some well-
authenticated instances, have done completely : a new mem-
ory thereupon having been formed), w'hile it is the ego, the
/, vouched for by consciousness, that will be held to persist.

But, at all events, Danton was a faithful instrument to the
Power behind Evolution, — an unselfish instrument, and that
is the essential thing. His heroic cry, " May my name be
accursed, if but the cause be saved!'''' should always be
remembered whenever his name be spoken. It certainly is
better to do the will of God while denying his name, than
to acknowledge it while defying his will.

How grateful France should feel to Danton, its deliverer !
How grateful, especially, its bourgeoisie, the beneficiary of
his herculean labor ! But look ! for seventy years there
liardly was even a peasant's hut or a workman's shop that
did not have the picture of a Bonaparte ( ! ) Danton's was

found no\vhere.

* * *

Robespierre, though not the originator of the act, was, by
his sanction of it, the murderer of Danton and friends.
He became the beneficiary of the executions — nominally ;

206 TERROR. [May,

tliat is to say, he liatl lor four months the honor of being
the sole man to whom to look up in France, but also the
cloak behind which Billaud and his fellow-Terrorists could
safely terrorize. Thus the latter ones were the real bene-
ficiaries. Let us simply compare the number of executions
up to Danton's death, and after.

From Aug. 17, 1792, to Oct. 2, 1793, more than a year, —
that is to say, the period when Danton had power, — ^^ there
were 90 executions. From Oct. 2, '93, to April 5, '94,
six months, and while he was powerless, there were 462 more ;
in all, 552 executions. But a/Zcr his death, from April 5, '94,
to July 28, '94, for three months and three weeks, they rise
to 2,oSj executions, or 20 a day on an average. The
most atrocious of these w^as that of the sweet, lovely, inno-
cent Lucile, wife of Camille, just one week after her hus-
band's death, without a motive at all. Yet, in order
to be perfectly fair, we should remember that at this con-
temporary period there was many a year when just as many
executions took place in Great Britain as during the whole
"year of Terror;" only, because the victims were mostly
petty criminals, no notice was taken of them.

How came Robespierre to this immense power ? Do not
think for a moment that he imposed on the Convention as
a whole, or on the really able men. Danton despised him, —
that is, his capacity, — and so did most capable men. But all
feared him, because he had the masses at his back. He had
an enormous ascendency over the common people ever
since Mirabeau's venality had been revealed. From thence
the people saw in him, by contrast, the Incorruptible ; and
he tvas incorruptible. But for that very reason Robespierre
should be a solemn warning to our own j)eople, and teach us
that incorruptibility is not enough, is /

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